Action Report: June/July 2004

How National Wildlife Federation is making a difference

  • NWF Staff
  • Jun 01, 2004
For the better part of the last century, NWF has been actively fighting to protect America’s waters for wildlife and people

In the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, when northern waterfowl wetland breeding grounds were becoming desolate, dry basins, 1,500 sports enthusiasts and conservationists convened in the nation’s capital for the first North American Wildlife Conference. From that meeting emerged the National Wildlife Federation, a collective voice united in the common cause of "restoring and conserving the vanishing wildlife resources of a continent," said the group’s founder, Jay N. "Ding" Darling, the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist who persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to support the unprecedented gathering.

In the seven decades since, one of NWF’s primary concerns has been protecting wetlands, watersheds, rivers, streams and bays for wildlife and people. Today, these efforts span the continent and range from fighting to keep the Clean Water Act intact and "greening" the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to protecting endangered salmon and defending wildlife-rich waterways from becoming wastelands sucked dry by ever-thirsty cities. A glimpse of NWF’s work on water-related issues is featured below.  Learn more about NWF's work to protect our waters.

When the Bush administration announced last year a plan to eliminate Clean Water Act protections for as much as 60 percent of the nation’s wetlands, streams and other waters, NWF and several dozen of its state affiliates launched a nationwide campaign to halt the misguided proposal. After receiving thousands of letters from NWF activists and outraged hunters and anglers ignited by the campaign, President Bush abandoned his rulemaking effort in December. Now, the Federation and many of its affiliates are focusing their efforts on a remaining administration directive that threatens roughly 20 percent of the wetlands in the lower 48 states.

At this writing, thousands of people are responding to a call from NWF’s Clean the Rain campaign staff to urge the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to abandon a proposed rule that would allow the nation’s chief sources of mercury pollution—coal-fired power plants—to continue spewing the toxin into the air at dangerous levels. Because mercury exposure causes serious developmental and neurological problems in people and wildlife, the Clean the Rain campaign is working to bring about local, regional and national policies and practices that will abolish mercury pollution. Follow our progress on these issues at

The Army Corps reaches a critical point in its 225-year history

No federal agency has a bigger impact on the nation’s waterways than the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Since 1779, Corps projects have included 8,500 miles of levees and flood walls, more than 500 flood-control dams and 11,000 miles of commercial navigation channels. Many of these expensive projects yield questionable economic benefits and devastate wildlife habitat.

Through its Greening the Corps campaign, NWF is working to convince the agency that it can shed its destructive ways and become a force for conservation. In Crossroads: Congress, the Corps of Engineers and the Future of America’s Water Resources, NWF and Taxpayers for Common Sense highlight the 29 most threatening and wasteful projects. The report, released in March, also outlines some solutions.

"The Corps is poised to either continue down the path of wasteful water resource projects or become an agency that spends taxpayer dollars responsibly on projects that protect and enhance the environment," says Campaign Coordinator Kate Costenbader. See NWF's Wildlife site.

Groups fight to protect lower Mississippi River Basin

Although less than 20 percent of its original 22 million acres of forests and wetlands remain, the lower Mississippi River Basin still boasts some of the nation’s richest wildlife habitat. To protect it, NWF is actively opposing several U.S. Army Corps of Engineers projects that would wreak havoc on the environment. In Arkansas, NWF and the Arkansas Wildlife Federation recently filed a lawsuit to stop an ill-conceived irrigation project from being built using water from the White River. If allowed to proceed, the Corps’ Grand Prairie Area Demonstration Project would be a model for additional irrigation projects, collectively costing taxpayers more than $1 billion. See NWF's Wildlife Site.

If everything’s big in Texas, the state's thirst for water is no exception. The Lone Star State has granted water-withdrawal permits for nearly every last drop in most of its rivers and streams. As a result, river flows are dwindling, leaving many wildlife species high and dry (see "Last in Line"). NWF’s Texas Living Waters campaign is trying to improve the way Texas manages and uses freshwater resources. Most recently the campaign helped persuade the City Council in Dallas to consider implementing a comprehensive water conservation program to preserve additional water supplies, rather than funding the proposed Marvin Nichols Reservoir. The reservoir threatened to flood thousands of acres of rare bottomland hardwood forests. Next on the agenda: Advocating for a more sustainable State Water Plan—one that includes strategies to provide water for fish and other wildlife while also meeting human water needs. Visit NWF's Wildlife Site.

Wild salmon and steelhead help define the landscape, people and culture of the Northwest, and provide economic benefits to communities throughout the region. Unfortunately, populations of these fish have dwindled to mere fractions of their historic numbers. As part of NWF’s ongoing efforts to restore these populations to sustainable levels, the Federation has joined more than 500 scientists and thousands of anglers and conservationists in calling for the partial removal of four federal dams along the lower Snake River. To date, more than $3.5 billion tax dollars have been spent on recovery efforts to offset the devastating effects that the dams have on fish. "Instead of investing our tax dollars in the restoration of a free-flowing Snake River, we have wasted time and money on actions such as trucking salmon around dams," says John Kober, an NWF wildlife program manager in Seattle.

Alaska’s awesome Copper River Delta is a place worth fighting for

Most descriptions of Alaska’s Copper River Delta are steeped in superlatives. It’s the largest wetland located on the Pacific coast of North America and one of the most important habitats for western sandpipers and numerous other bird species in this hemisphere—tucked inside the second largest national forest. Yet the protections for this vast and beautiful area are woefully inadequate: the Delta does not contain one acre of congressionally designated "wilderness." Without such, it could fall victim to proposed logging, mining, oil and gas drilling and other activities permitted on national forestlands. While NWF was recently successful in gaining interim protections through the revision of the Chugach Land Use Plan, these measures need to be made permanent. That’s why the Federation and the rest of the Copper River Delta Coalition, an alliance of eight regional and national conservation groups, have been working to secure a wilderness designation for the area. This year, the coalition went head-to-head with the U.S. Forest Service over its failure to adequately consider the regional impacts of proposed oil development, as required by law. For the latest, see NWF's Wildlife Site.

Protecting Prince William Sound

Ever since the Exxon Valdez hemorrhaged nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into the waters off the coast of Alaska in 1989, NWF has been actively involved in efforts to safeguard Prince William Sound’s resources. Pushing for scientific investigations into the environmental impacts of the tragedy, NWF convened some of the top scientists in Alaska to assess the damages to Sound waters and wildlife populations, including an endangered group of killer whales. Recently, the Federation helped form the first citizen-based conservation organization in the Prince William Sound area. For more, visit NWF's Wildlife Site.

NWF and fellow members of Vermont’s White River Partnership recently received one of the U.S. Forest Service’s coveted regional honor awards for their efforts to restore imperiled trout habitat on public and private land in the state. In recent years, the team—aided by hundreds of local volunteers—has planted several miles of native trees and shrubs along stream banks. "Reestablishing masses of native plant roots can go a long way towards stopping bank erosion," says Kari Dolan, NWF’s Northeast Natural Resource Center projects manager. "We’re restoring the stream for fish, but also helping landowners keep their valuable properties from washing away."

You’ve heard it before: As population increases, natural resources will disappear. But for people living in the water-poor regions of the world, this is more than an ominous threat. NWF is working with foreign nations to help millions of people gain access to clean drinking water through sustainable solutions. NWF’s population staff played a leading role in advocating for clean water as a basic human right at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg and plan to attend other upcoming international meetings. Visit NWF's Wildlife Site.

Restoring America’s greatest lakes to their former glory

The Great Lakes represent the largest freshwater system on Earth. Yet decades of haphazard water use and contamination by pollutants such as PCBs and mercury have taken a heavy environmental toll, impacting local economies, wildlife and human health.

One of the most ambitious approaches to reversing some of this damage is outlined in two congressional bills NWF helped develop: the House’s Great Lakes Restoration Refinancing Act and the Senate’s Great Lakes Environmental Restoration Act. If enacted, these bills would provide $4 to 6 billion for restoration, including toxic-sediment cleanup, better sewage management and control of harmful invasive species. More importantly, the legislation would improve management coordination among the 148 federal and 51 state programs dedicated to Great Lakes protection, providing a remedy for bureaucratic confusion that now undermines the recovery of the Great Lakes.

NWF also helped shape the Great Lakes Charter Annex of 2001, an agreement to protect the region’s waters from diversions and misuse that was signed by the governors of the eight Great Lakes states. Over the next few months, the Federation will continue to work with state leaders to develop a binding agreement to put the Annex 2001 principles into law, and continue to work with federal, state and local officials to make effective Great Lakes restoration a national priority.

The Platte River is an important pit stop for imperiled birds

Each spring, endangered whooping cranes, sandhill cranes and millions of ducks, geese and other birds stop to rest and refuel in the wide, sandy channels of the Platte River.

Unfortunately, this yearly tradition is threatened by development and increased water demands. NWF and its Nebraska affiliate are working to ensure that government officials finalize a Platte River Recovery Plan that meets the water needs of people while improving habitat and water flows for wildlife, including the federally listed whooping crane, interior least tern, piping plover and pallid sturgeon.

"This could be one of our last chances to protect the heart of the Central Flyway before it dies of thirst," says NWF’s Platte River Project Manager Carolyn Greene. See NWF's Wildlife Site.

At press time, NWF and a coalition of conservation groups had raised more than 50 percent of the $30 million needed to purchase and protect a 342,000-acre parcel in Maine’s threatened Downeast Lakes region.

In cities such as Atlanta and Detroit, NWF is teaching the importance of protecting water resources to under-served minorities. To find out more, read "And Clean Water For All."

While fighting to secure funding from Congress for Everglades restoration, NWF is combining forces with its Florida affiliate to protect America’s river of grass from further impacts.

Since 1973, NWF’s Backyard Wildlife Habitat™ program has been teaching people how to garden for wildlife. The program encourages them to use native plants, which not only provide animals with the best overall food sources but also require less moisture to survive. For more water-saving tips, see "Making Every Drop Count" or visit NWF's In Your Backyard section.

Lake Superior—the deepest, coldest and cleanest of the Great Lakes—is threatened by pollution and habitat destruction from shoreline development, coal-fired power plants, invasive species and sulfide-mining operations. Working closely with state affiliates, local citizens, tribal communities and government officials, NWF is leading a campaign to reduce these threats. Visit NWF's Wildlife Site.

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